Visegrád is THE castle in Hungary. The castle of castles. And if you think you have seen a beautiful panorama, you ain’t seen nothing yet! As nature lover and hiker you cannot go home without seeing the Danube Bend in all its glory. In every season, the mountain range and the view over the magnificent Danube river are just unforgettable, especially when you throw a watch tower on the top of an old Hungarian castle in the mix! And the best part is that even if you are just staying in Budapest for a couple of days, Visegrád is not out of reach, and a great way to escape the busy city to enjoy Hungary’s beautiful nature.
If one had to name a single castle that played a most significant role in the history of Hungary, it would be the Visegrád Castle. It played an important representative role in the Middle Ages, as it was one of the richest palaces of the Hungarian kings, and its political and military significance was not negligible. It was built by King Béla IV right after the Tartar invasion in the 13th century, as it was his vision that the country’s military defense system had to be strengthened. Among the 46 stone castles he had built, Visegrád was the most secure stronghold. After the extension of the original House of Hungary, called Árpád dynasty, the sovereign of the House of Anjou from Naples, took over. With his reign, the 14th century became marked as the age of romance, as it was the golden age of chivalry, knights in shining armor and extravagant events at the royal court, symbolizing the greatness and power of the sovereign. During this time, Visegrád became the headquarters of the Royal House, which elevated the status of the building even more.
Next in line was Matthias Hunyadi, also known as Matthias the Just, who established the first professional Hungarian army (also referred to as the Black Army of Hungary), but besides being a great soldier, he also reformed the justice system (hence his nickname) and was involved into art and science. For this reason, King Matthias was the first to embrace the Renaissance from Italy, and gave the orders to reconstruct the Visegrád castle in late Gothic and Renaissance style. Other than that, he advanced the careers of talented individuals chosen for their abilities rather than their social statuses, and his royal library (the Bibliotheca Corviniana, established in the Buda Castel in Budapest) had one of the largest collections of Europe. After seeing chivalrous knights and noble ladies, now intellect and culture were of paramount importance in the castle of Visegrád.
Sigismund of Luxembourg continued the legacy of Matthias Hunyadi, and the Visegárd Castle became royal seat of European standards under his watch, as he strengthened the fort and instituted its international sovereign authority. One of the most important royal symbols of Hungary, the Holy Crown, was also safeguarded here. However, the golden era of the Visegrád Castle came to an end with the invasion of the Ottomans in the 16th century, and it was dishonored to ruins. In the time thereafter, the remains of the castle changed hands often, and the once so dignified building went further into decay.
Excavations of the ruined castle started in the 20st century, and returned the castle to its former glory at last. It now functions as a reminder of the royal era of Hungary, hosting exhibitions about the Crown, the age of romance, the history of the castle and more. Until this day, the Visegrád castle belongs on the list of the greatest fortresses in Hungary, and in my opinion; if you could only visit one castle in Hungary, it should be the Visegrád Castle. The practical part of this advice is to plan your travel to the castle carefully, especially if you are relying on public transport.
The part by train is smooth, but from there on it starts to get a bit more complicated. As you arrive at the train station Nagymaros, you will have to take a ferry to cross the Danube. This is a beautiful addition to the journey, as it gives a one-of-a-kind view over the castle. Once arrived at the other side of the Danube, you have two options. Either you go uphill to the castle by bus, but mind you; the bus only travels during the summer period! When you come outside the season, you don’t have a choice but to hike up. It is a relatively short (30-40 minutes) hike, but very steep, and definitely good to prepare for when visiting Visegrád.
All in all, visiting Visegrád is an experience no one should miss when traveling in Hungary. The awe-inspiring panorama, the impressive royal status of the enormous fortress, and the fascinating history; Visegrád and the breathtaking Danube Bend are unforgettable.